Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 2, pp 275–290 | Cite as

Descriptions, ambiguity, and representationalist theories of interpretation

  • Philipp Koralus


Theories of descriptions tend to involve commitments about the ambiguity of descriptions. For example, sentences containing descriptions are widely taken to be ambiguous between de re, de dicto, and intermediate interpretations and are sometimes thought to be ambiguous between the former and directly referential interpretations. I provide arguments to suggest that none of these interpretations are due to ambiguities (or indexicality). On the other hand, I argue that descriptions are ambiguous between the above family of interpretations and what may be called ‘institutional’ as well as generic interpretations. My arguments suggest that an adequate theory of descriptions may require considerable rethinking. Most contemporary theories of descriptions appear to be committed to one or more claims about the ambiguity of descriptions that I reject in this paper. I suggest that my observations provide a reason to renew efforts to develop a theory of descriptions within a representationalist theory of interpretation.


Descriptions Ambiguity Generics Uniqueness Presupposition Representationalist Theories of Interpretation 



I thank Gideon Rosen, Gil Harman, Paul Benacerraf, Delia Graff, Jay Atlas, and Philippe Schlenker, as well as an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments and discussions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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